Monday, March 12, 2012

Surprise! Trade Secret Theft is not automatically Economic Espionage

Corporate espionage used to be rather straight forward as the typical Coke-Pepsi textbook example illustrates. It is a crime when one stole company data/trade secrets and passed it to a business rival.
This was, however, not quite the case of former Goldman Sachs computer programmer Sergey Aleynikov. A US federal appeals court acquitted Aleynikov in mid-February after he had served a year of his eight-year sentence... His acquittal was not only a blow to his former employer but also the Department of Justice.

Most importantly, his case is an acid test of the 16-year old Economic Espionage Act that specifically targets theft of trade secrets.

The Economic Espionage Act makes theft or misappropriation of a trade secret a federal crime, whether it is with the knowledge or intent that the theft will benefit a foreign power or for interstate and/or international commerce with the knowledge or intent that it will hurt the owner of the trade secret.

Coincidentally just a week before Aleynikov was let go, another US court acquitted Chinese-born American software developer Hanjuan Jin for allegedly stealing confidential information from her employer Motorola Inc...

But the judge said while the evidence showed she stole trade was not enough to prove she committed economic espionage by selling the information to a foreign government or entity. (more)

Moral: Prevention is more swift and sure than legal protection. Get professional help.